Tuesday, December 30, 2008

December 27-30, 2008: West End, Brisbane

Our brief sojourn in Brisbane wouldn't have been complete without a speedy tour of some of our old eating haunts. Unfortunately a few of our faves, like El Torito, Atomica, Tongue and Groove and the Gunshop Cafe were closed for the holidays, but there were still plenty of places for us to revisit.

We started things off on Saturday evening at Punjabi Palace on Melbourne Street. Ever since we came to Melbourne Cindy has been pining after their vegie korma - yet to be topped anywhere in our travels around the garden state. Prices have gone up a little since we were last there, but the surly service seems to have improved. We tried to tackle too much - a vegie korma ($16.50), palak paneer ($13.90), a garlic naan, a rose lassi, kingfisher beer and our free rice. I'd forgotten the serving sizes of this place - we usually got at least one extra meal out of the leftovers and tonight was no exception, with a take home container of goodies for any spare meals. The korma was much as Cindy remembered it, tangy, creamy and vegie rich - nothing compares. The palak paneer also hit the mark - large, soft paneer cubes in a spicy spinachy sauce, this dish hasn't developed the mythology of the korma but it's undoubtedly one of the better palak paneers we've tried. It's only since leaving Brisbane that we've realised how lucky we were to live so close to Punjabi - despite the surfeit of Indian places near our new home, we've not found anything that quite measures up.

(Update, 31/12/2014: Espressohead is now closed)

We'd planned to start Monday morning by meeting a gaggle of friends for breakfast at either The Gunshop or Atomica, both of which were closed. Luckily, Espressohead was still open - we were semi-regulars back in our Brisbane years and not much has changed: same menu, same decor, same atmosphere, same prices, all of which is pretty good news. Cindy ordered the corn, cheese and capsicum fritters with avocado salsa and spinach leaves ($10.50). They were a little too much fritter and too little corn but the salsa was tasty and the spinach provided the illusion of healthiness. Cindy also chose one of Espressohead's many juices - a love bug (strawberry and watermelon, $4.50), which she happily slurped down as Brisbane gradually turned up the heat.

I just ordered avocado and mushrooms on toast ($7.50), which is a cheap and delicious choice - especially when avocado is in season.

After a quick breather we headed in to Fortitude Valley for a return trip to Kuan-Yin Tea House, a vegan-friendly, entirely veg mock-meat cafe, with loads and loads of teas and cold drinks. We went a little nuts: Cindy opting for sweet and sour pork rice ($9.50), which came out in a cute bento box, loaded up with a range of vegie sides.

The little pork bites were delicious, crispy and sticky with a surprisingly good sweet and sour pork. Cindy has often ordered this at past trips to mock-meat places, and has been served up decent mock meat, served up with sickly (to me at least) sweet sauces.

I decided to try the veggie fish with rice ($8.50) - it was less attractively presented, but at least as enjoyable. The nori adds some nice seaweed flavours to the soft pseudo-fish, and the soy sauce smeared on the crumbing provided a dash of saltiness. The whole thing was slightly dry, but it was still pretty fine. It's a huge menu, including such mysteries as mix simmered flavour ($5.90) and delicate combo ($14.90).

Another of the joys of Kuan-Yin is the selection of drinks - a huge range of milk teas, frappes, juices and other teas. Cindy braved the coconut flirtatious ($3.90), heavy on the coconut juice and slivers of coconut flesh, with just a dash of orange juice. It was excellent and refreshing, if a little awkward - it's not easy to slurp up large chunks of coconut through a straw. Patrick was even more adventurous, following up a coconut milk tea (with pearls) with a 'pink loving' - some sort of fruity delight. I was the least inspired, opting for a green apple frappe.

The day still wasn't over - S & L gave us a call and offered up a trip to Suncorp Stadium for soccer, which I twisted Cindy's arm into agreeing to. It was well worth the trip - a last minute goal gave the Roar an exciting 3-2 victory over Wellington. We followed up with a visit to Patcharin Thai, tucked down near the end of Hargrave Road in West End. It, along with the sadly departed Thai Dream, provided us with consistently outstanding Thai food when we lived nearby. Cindy dived into a pad thai (~$13), and I went for a tofu gang panang (~$13).

Both were good, but I was a little disappointed. I'm not sure if my memory has inflated Patcharin Thai's quality, but I had very high expectations, and my curry fell just short. The main problem was the tofu - it was a little dry and overly firm, some smaller cubes of silken tofu would have made this a bigger hit. Not a bad end to an exhausting day of friends, food and football.

Monday was a quieter food day, with breakfast at home and a visit to Beth and Ryan's house for some cracking fritters. Our only trip out was to Kafe Meze, for dinner with Jack and Em. We've only visited this place a few times over the years - it's a meat heavy menu, with the veg highlights mainly popping up on the appetiser list. Cindy and I went for the vegetarian platter: fried mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant, horta, huge baked beans and lemony potatoes ($29). It all comes out cold but everything is pretty tasty - the beans and potatoes are particularly good. We added in a serve of haloumi ($5.90), just because haloumi's awesome. It's all pretty good value - Cindy and I were both well stuffed for less than $20 each. A typical summer storm put an end to our evening of outdoor dining, which was another moment of Bris-talgia.

Our final day in Brisbane saw us heading our separate ways - I ducked out bright and early to check out the birds of Boondall wetlands (high tides and hot weather = a sunburned and frustrated birder, although my first sighting of rainbow bee-eaters almost made up for other disappointments), while Cindy hung out with an old school friend in the smarter climate of a movie theatre. For lunch, I ducked into West End's only entirely vego restaurant: The Forest. They have a series of burgers and wraps, along with a bain marie with around five rotating dishes and some of the best vegie pies around. I enjoyed a tofu burger - an intriguingly flavoured tofu patty, heavy with salad and smothered with aoli. Messy and delicious. Cindy couldn't leave Brisbane without at least stopping in, so we snuck out for dessert: two kinds of vegan cheesecake (strawberry and blueberry).

When we first tried these, they were a revelation: how do you get such cheesy goodness into a vegan cheesecake? They're still excellent although we've since been spoiled by the EBC's fine vegan desserts, which probably just surpass the Forest's efforts.

All in all it was a pretty good attempt at recapturing past dining glories - Punjabi, Kuan-Yin and The Forest are all up with Melbourne's best, but the trip back did highlight how spoiled for choice we are down here. So many vego places. I think we'll be in Melbourne for a good while yet.

December 20, 2008 - January 2, 2009: Christmas cooking

It's the season for preparing and sharing food and I did my fair share of it this year, mostly from other people's kitchens! Since we were surrounded by non-vegetarians and not relying on our own spice rack I chose a range of familiar-looking dishes without too many exotic ingredients, things that I've made and loved before.

Following lunch with Mum and Carol, I served up cream cheese brownies for dessert. We polished off half the pan between us, then I boxed up the rest for the ladies to enjoy later.

This plainer version of bubble slice is a childhood favourite of my brother's. Liam's been living in small-town New South Wales for the past six months and he's been missing Mum's cooking. Though he's not much of a baker I reckon he can manage making this refrigerated slice, so I tucked the recipe into a Christmas card as well as boxing up this edible incentive.

Michael and I spent Christmas day separately and we both wanted to contribute something to our hosts' tables. The solution? Twin trays of spanakopita - tasty at room temperature and terrific when eaten fresh out of the oven.

My Dad had a range of guests in his home, none of whom I know very well. Rather than trying to choose individual gifts, I hoped they'd appreciate the gesture of a shared box of sweets. These were supposed to be butter pecan turtle bars but with Caloundra seemingly devoid of pecans, they became butter macadamia turtle bars.

For a picnic with old friends, I baked a batch of soy bombs while the Boxing Day test babbled on in the background. Little terrier Louie didn't seem at all perturbed that these are vegan, and circled hopefully around my ankles all afternoon. Between preparing the bombs and their accompanying sauce, my hands smelt like a regular barbecue for the rest of the day.

Our last stop was Liam's current small-town home, where Michael and I shared a cabin with my mum and three of her sisters. We earned our keep by cooking dinner - first, haloumi sandwiches with pesto and salad, and a side of seasoned potatoes.

For the second night, I hit on a great dinner idea for mixed company - a parmigiana party! In Liam's kitchen Mum and I worked in tandem, crumbing chicken and eggplant respectively, serving them with simple side vegetables.

Michael and I were lucky to receive as much edible love as we gave. Here are some highlights:
  • fabulous fresh tropical fruit, elegantly cut by Swiss visitor Marco;
  • sweet and savoury sauces from Michael's Mum;
  • an assortment of Indian groceries from mine;
  • a gorgeous lasagna prepared by Anne, and the largest sachet of saffron I've ever owned;
  • a copy of Face Food, travelling from Japan with Michael's brother;
  • a lunch of zucchini and haloumi fritters with salad, followed by lychees in Beth and Ryan's beautiful new home;
  • a pub meal, Liam's shout.
Family, friends, food - our holiday had all the right ingredients.

December 21, 2008: Cheese & herb fritters with tomato jam

My greatest achievement at work this year has not been a brilliant presentation or prestigious publication. It's been the compilation of all my colleagues' recipes from this year's culinary competition into a single document, full of colour photos, anecdotes and experts' tips. I've since received many appreciative comments and emails for my efforts but no-one could be happier than I am to have access to this glut of tried-and-true recipes. My favourite savoury dish of the day was the cheese and herb fritters, topped with tomato jam and prepared by Fiona. She credited the recipe to Delia Smith but added some extra advice of her own; it was an easy meal to put together when my mum arrived in Melbourne and we hosted lunch for her and her sister Carol.

The fritters are composed of a lot of grated cheese, whatever sprinkling of fresh herbs you like, and just enough pancake batter to bind it all together. The tomato jam is no more difficult to concoct - a chopped onion, can of tomatoes and a few condiments go into a saucepan to simmer, sweeten and meld. Toss together some salad leaves on the side and you've got my favourite kind of summertime lunch - something a little bit naughty offset with a heapin' helpin' of fresh produce. Eager to make use of my new jug and glasses, I also swizzled together ice, a punnet of strawberries, a bottle of lemonade and the juice of a lemon.

Public service announcement: You'll be tempted to eat more of these fritters than you should; this leads to several hours of regret and cheese-belly. Two is enough; three if you make 'em really small.

Cheese and herb fritters

100g feta cheese, grated or crumbled
250g other grated cheese
(I used tasty cheddar but you can also try gruyere, Swiss, parmesan, etc)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs
(I used parsley and chives but try thyme, oregano or sage)
50g plain flour
2 pinches cayenne pepper
2 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons olive oil

Sift the flour and cayenne pepper into a large bowl, then make a well in the centre. Break the eggs into the well and gently whisk them together, gradually incorporating flour from the edge. Whisk in the milk until it's all well combined, then fold in the grated cheeses and herbs. Delia suggests leaving the mixture to rest in a cool place for an hour; I actually prepared it the night before and stored it in the fridge for 12+ hours. There's probably no harm in using the batter immediately if you're impatient.

Heat the oil in a frypan and dollop large spoonfuls of the batter into it, flattening them slightly if the mixture is stiff. Cook for about a minute on each side, until golden. Drain the fritters on absorbent paper and serve hot or at room temperature with tomato jam or another condiment of your choice.

Tomato jam

400g can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a small saucepan and add the onion and garlic. Cook for a few minutes, then add the tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and sugar; season the mixture to taste. Simmer the jam uncovered for about 40 minutes, then cool it to room temperature.

December 20, 2008: Ici III

Update, August 1 2013: More news from Fitzroyalty! Looks like Ici is reopening very soon. 
Update, July 5 2013: As reported by Fitzroyalty, Cafe Ici has closed down.

I suspect that the inner north of Melbourne boasts the best range of breakfasts in the country, and we were keen to share the bounty with L on Saturday morning. Having recently confirmed that Min Lokal's baked eggs are still the best of a rather good bunch, Michael led L and I to this small George St cafe. Alas, word has spread and they were horrendously busy (good luck to them!). Surprisingly Ici, just round the corner and with a reputation for long waits, had space to accommodate us straight away.

The one savoury respite from eggs is the homemade tofu ($16.50) with white bean miso paste, spinach and tamari. Michael and I both wavered over it, and ultimately it was Michael who ordered it. He wasn't disappointed - the miso paste and tofu made a great couple and he cleared his plate in near-record time.

It was upstaged, however, by the spring eggs ($15.50). These usually come with pancetta, but it was our waitress who suggested that I sub it out for a vegetarian extra. I chose avocado, in addition to the eggs (scrambled for me), chargrilled asparagus, fetta, slow-roasted tomato and rocket salad already on offer. It was a marvellous mountain of food; rich yet fresh and topped with a creamy, tangy dressing. I made my way through about two thirds of it, relishing every mouthful, and Michael made short work of the remainder.

Up top you can see the porridge, which put a smile on L's face. There's also a fine-looking stack of French toast and berries available for the sweet tooth. Ici is a little pricier than most of its competitors but it always offers high quality food. Given the friendly service and minimal wait on this visit, I felt no regret as I paid the bill - we'd received excellent value for money.

You can read our previous visits to Ici here and here.

Monday, December 29, 2008

December 19, 2008: Peko Peko

With L visiting from Brisbane, Cindy and I plotted a post-work evening in Fitzroy. We started out at Black Pearl for an early evening cocktail, and then headed across to Smith Street to try out Peko Peko.

Peko Peko is run by the same people who run the wonderful Otsumami in Northcote, so we turned up with high expectations. It has the same basic shtick - a menu broken into small, medium and big food sections, with plentiful vego options. After much discussion, we eventually settled on three dishes from the medium page and one from the big page between the three of us.

First up was the okonomyaki, served with a rich barbecue and Japanese mayo sauce, topped with shredded nori ($9). The pancake was tasty - not as cabbagey as I was expecting, but dense and crispy in all the right places; however the sauce was the star of the show. I was shameless enough to mop up the dregs with my fingers - judge me if you like, but taste the sauce for yourselves before condemning me.

Next up was the inevitable order of tempura vegies ($10) - sweet potato, eggplant, zucchini and tofu all fried up and served with a light dipping sauce. The tempura was executed as expertly as you'd expect from a good Japanese restaurant, and the inclusion of tofu in the mix was a bonus, but the soy sauce was a little too light for my tastes - a touch of wasabi or something would have given it the kind of kick that I favour.

Finally (the other dish we ordered was a fishy one for L, which was only a 'medium', but turned out to be both massive and delicious), the large dish: Yasai itamedon ($12) - eggplant, zucchini, capsicum, spinach and cabbage stir-fried in a rich teriyaki sauce, served on steamed rice.

This was a winner - a well aimed sauce, delicious fresh vegies and a pile of fluffy rice. It was a bit hard to share efficiently, but this is the kind of thing you come to Japanese restaurants for (at least if you're a vego); perfectly cooked, simple but impressive flavours and great, fresh ingredients. Yummo.

L and I happily knocked back a couple of Asahis, but Cindy was a bit more adventurous and went for a ginger and lemongrass tea (see the top picture) - it was super strong, you could feel your immune system improving with every sip.

Peko Peko is a cute little place, with a very stylish private dining room up in the back section, and a few unobtrusive features giving the walls a little life without slipping into cliche J-decor. The food was excellent and the service friendly, and we were all well impressed with the whole experience. Otsumami might just win out, but Peko Peko is right behind it - maybe a smidgin cheaper and well worth a visit.

Address: 199 Smith Street, Fitzroy
Ph: 9415 9609
Price: vego smalls: $3-$8, mediums: $8-$10, bigs: $12-$14

Saturday, December 27, 2008

December 18, 2008: Leftover makeover - Getting stuffed

Internet-sourced recipes - write them down. I was all set to revisit those stuffed mushrooms that Michael made last year but beyond his positive review lay a dead link. I continued to search the site a while for the recipe, without success. Never mind, it turns out that stuffing vegetables is easy, reasonably quick, and can even take care of those leftover bits and pieces lazing around the fridge. I don't know why I don't try it more often. Here I pulled together a mixture of breadcrumbs, grated cheese, capers, parsley, lemon zest, garlic powder and pepper - it was a feisty combination, almost too salty, but memorable and worth repeating. If only I could remember the quantities!

Actually, this was only the first course of a double-stuffed meal. We were enjoying the company of L, a long-time friend of mine from Brisbane, who stayed a couple of nights with us while chasing up a study opportunity in Melbourne. Just the excuse for a simple weeknight dessert, especially since I had some cream to use up. I keenly plucked my first stone fruits of the season (from a carton and not a tree, sadly) and wasn't quite as sad as I should have been that the peaches were rock hard and the nectarines not much better. I knew they'd go down fine after being baked under a crust of ground almonds, brown sugar, butter, ginger and nutmeg. The apricots, which were perfectly ripe to begin with, disintegrated into a delectable jam in the time it took the less ripe fruit to become tender.

Friday, December 26, 2008

December 17, 2008: Gertrude Street Grub - Las Vegan Bakery and Cafe

July 3, 2015: Las Vegan have announced that they're closing the cafe and going to focus exclusively on catering from now on - we've sampled their catering before and it's great.

Okay, so this is pretty embarrassing. We've lived in Melbourne for more than two years, and I've worked on Gertrude Street the entire time, yet this is the first time we've blogged Las Vegan. It's not actually the first time I've been there - it seems every time I visit with the intention of blogging it, I leave the camera at home, or on my desk or, the one time I actually had it with me, the owners were on a three week holiday. It's been like a mini blogging curse. But at last I made it, camera in hand - just 2 days before they shut down for a month.

Of course by now, everyone's had their say (even people like Theresa and ZB have stopped in from far flung places). My previous visits have had mixed results - the calzone I ordered many months back was a bit dry and unexciting, but the sloppy joe that Toby recommended really hit the spot. I figured it was best to capture Las Vegan at their best, so I went back for another shot at the TVP-based burger ($8.50).

True to the name, the patty is sloppy - all sauce, mushrooms and pseudo-mince, plonked on a fresh roll, with a few cursory pieces of tomato on top. And it's good! Messy, but really, really good - it's mostly about the sauce I think, with the occasional hint of chilli bursting through the tomato-y goop. The salad on the side is fine, but I foolishly forgot to ask for fries with mine - another reason to resample the sloppy joe on my next visit.

It wouldn't be right to write this place up without mentioning the muffins - L.V. does an impressive range of vegan muffins ($3.50 I think). I was powerless to resist the sour cherry option - all sticky-sweet, sour and delicious. I would have appreciated some more cherries, but I think that would be true no matter how many were squeezed in.

Las Vegan is a great lunch place - a variety of burgers, calzones and salads on offer, along with some soups, the delicious rice balls we tried at World Vegan Day and a few other odds and ends. Everything is reasonably priced, generously portioned and, of course, vegan. Be warned: Las Vegan is only open for lunches on weekdays - so you'll have to take a long lunch break and mosey in to Collingwood to check it out.

Address: 22 Smith Street, Collingwood
Ph: 9415 9001
Price: $4 - $8.50

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

December 16, 2008: Ganesh Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurant

We're still working our way through Aduki's awesome Melbourne Veg Food Guide, so a Christmas party trip to the Fitzroy Bowls Club was the perfect excuse for me to meet up with Cindy on St Georges Road and check out Melbourne's latest pay-what-you-feel veg restaurant: Ganesh Vegan and Vegetarian Cafe.

Ganesh seems to have gone through a few iterations - when Kristy and Toby went last year it was the Dhal Bar, and when the Aduki folk reviewed it there seemed to have been fixed prices. Nowadays there's a smallish menu (about 7 dishes), some friendly staff and a big pot in which deposit whatever price you think is fair. Once we'd told the guy who greeted us that we'd not visited before, he suggested that we just try a little of everything and neither of us were going to argue.

Our table was quickly laden with food (all of which was vegan): purri, rice, a potato curry with peas and sundried raisins, a pumpkin curry with roast sesame, dates and Szechuan pepper, a Thai tofu and spinach masala, broad beans with seaweed, smoked tofu and tomato, coconut and tamarind pickles and a little bowl with vadai in it. Wowsers.

As if that wasn't enough, our waiter ducked back straight away and added a huge bowl of stir-fried mixed vegies.

Despite the ridiculous amount of food on offer, Cindy insisted that we sample from their few dessert options, going with some maple syrup walnuts and poached spiced figs.

The walnuts were basically candied - sweet and crunchy, combining well with the chewier poached figs. They, like the whole meal really, were pretty tasty without being mind-blowingly good. The pay-what-you-feel ethos means that this can be as cheap or expensive as you like, which means it's hard to complain about the value, and the array of vegan dishes is impressive. The food was plentiful and tasty - it was hard not to make comparisons with Gujju's - Ganesh wins in terms of variety, but the dishes themselves were a bit less impressive than the delights served up in East Malvern.

Update 10/5/10: Word on the street is that Ganesh has closed down. Very unfortunate.

Address: 376 St Georges Road, North Fitzroy
Ph: 9489 4615 (although it's not working at the moment apparently)
Price: Whatever you like (cash only)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

December 14, 2008: Eat Pizza

Ten pizzas. Overflowing with vegetables, basil, cheese and pepperoni. All vegan. Whoa!

They come from Eat Pizza, a new restaurant and takeaway in Maribyrnong - the perfect location for Emily to host a tasting party. The roasted vegetable and veggie-with-the-lot-plus-pineapple were very popular but actually, I'm more a fan of simple combinations - I loved the basil and cherry tomato pizza, the garlic pizza, and especially the pepperoni pizza. All the bases were made with wholemeal flour, and it make its presence known without being too heavy. We admittedly haven't sampled Mebourne's best-known vegan pizzas (at Plush Pizza in Hawthorn), but these were mighty impressive.

Address: 44 Raleigh Road, Maribyrnong
Ph: 9317 7977
Website: www.eatpizza.com.au

You can also read other accounts of the night at Miss T: Princess Vegan, unwakeable, kblog and The Fairest Feed.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

December 13, 2008: Three One Two II

For my 28th birthday, I wanted to visit the same restaurant we ate at for Michael's 28th birthday last year - Three One Two. It set a high benchmark for the few vegetarian degustations we've since enjoyed, and we were both curious to experience a different seasonal twist on McConnell's food.

The meal began with this little cup, containing beetroot, fromage blanc, broad beans, dill and fried bread. It was a cute spring-themed start to proceedings; the wafer-thin fried bread offset it with a delicate crunch and savoury accent.

Then, of course, came the bread. It's always a treat at these high-end restaurants, crusty but never tough. And perfectly spreadable, room temperature butter - classy!

This is the zucchini & cauliflower salad, eggplant and air-dried sheep's milk cheese. There's clearly more to it than that, with each mouthful offering a different combination of flavours. It didn't surprise me in the way that McConnell's beetroot salad or Wickens' garden salad did, but it was a fine light course to keep us appetised for the many dishes to come.

This dish arrived accompanied by the chilled asparagus soup in a separate jug. The radish curls, smoked tomato, sorrel, dill and fromage blanc posed like abstract art in the shallow white dish, and our waiter did a fine job of not disturbing them as he poured in the soup. I wasn't much taken with my first mouthful of the soup, but when I ate it with the other elements it made much more sense. I was very pleased with myself for saving the smoked tomato until last - it was superb. "It's by Tom Cooper from the Yarra Valley," whispered the waiter, reverently. Who is Tom Cooper? I've no idea, but he smokes a damn good tomato.

Here's "piquillo peppers, panisses, and crushed peas". Panisses are 'fries' made from chickpea flour, and that's a mighty big one topping this dish! Offset by mild purees, sweet roasted peppers, herbs and the nuttiest chickpeas I've ever tasted, this was one of my favourite dishes of the night.

And here's my other favourite, which was served on two plates. Above is strips of naan concealing herbed and spiced chickpeas and a scattering of dried onion...

... and here are the braised tomatoes, piping hot in a teeny pot. It was a wonderfully fragrant interpretation of Indian cuisine that I won't be forgetting any time soon.

The cheese course consisted of Beaufort cows' milk cheese from the Savoie region, France, served with carrot and pain d'épices. I'm a recent convert to enjoying cheeses with fruit or preserves and this carrot puree really hit the spot. Pain d'épices is not actually the crispbread you see at the far end; it's "bread of spices", a French cake rich with gingerbread flavours and honey, pureed with the carrot.

I wonder whether these dishes were really meant for housing tealight candles? I like them better with coconut cream, raspberry and chocolate anyway. The chocolate was a curious thing - not chunks of the stuff, not waxy or melty at all, crunchier like dry chocolate biscuits or even cocoa nibs.

The second dessert (and shouldn't there always be a second dessert?) was this arrangement of poached apricots, pine nut sponge and French vanilla parfait. The small square of parfait was the thickest, richest frozen custard I've ever eaten, it was lovely with the dense sponge cake though I couldn't detect the pine nuts. The apricots, on the other hand, I found too sweet.

To nibble with their strong coffee, we were finally presented with these tiny friands with passionfruit curd. At this size, they are all chewy caramelised crust and zero squidgy filling - I suppose that's where the tangy curd steps in.

This procession of courses had me feeling most satisfied, though surprisingly not stuffed full as some other degustations have. McConnell seems to put as much care into his vegetarian dishes as his standard menu - at other restaurants we've received 'same, minus the meat' meals while here the chickpea panisses and braised tomatoes seemed to be designed especially for us meat-eschewing folks. He didn't even rely on the seemingly ubiquitous tofu course! Nor did this meal use foams, gels or other molecular novelties to keep us interested. Props to McConnell for showing us the great things that a chef, not a magician or lab-coated scientist, can do with vegetables.

You can read about our previous visit to Three One Two here.

Updated (29/6/09): Andrew McConnell has packed up Three, One, Two and opened Cutler and Co on Gertrude Street in Fitzroy.

December 12, 2008: Po' boys

It's no secret that I'm a sucker for a good vege burger. So when Michael offered to cook me anything I liked out of Veganomicon on Friday night, I zeroed in on the Sammich section and selected the po' boy. Po' boys originated in Louisiana and traditionally involve some sort of fried seafood stuffed into a baguette. Not this baby - it starts with smoky chipotle mayo, is filled out with crunchy cornmeal-crumbed tofu and coleslaw, with a grand finale of pickles! This book is sadly lacking in the photo department, but regardless I was picturing a fine sandwich.

And you know what? It's about three times BETTER than I hoped. It's frickin' mardi gras in a crusty bread roll - just look at it! The chipotle mayo's got bite, the tofu crust is golden delicious with a hint of lime zest, the slaw freshens things up and the pickles are the sweet-and-sour icing on the cake. I ate this for breakfast on Saturday, and on Sunday too. Then I ate the last bit for lunch on Monday. I still loved it, and I reckon you will too.

Po' boys

Chipotle mayo
Hunt down a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (here in Melbourne, you can buy them from Casa Iberica). Finely chop one pepper, and stir it into 1/4 cup vegan mayonnaise; additionally, stir in about 1/2 teaspoon of the adobo sauce. Taste and add more adobo sauce if you want spicier mayo.

Cornmeal-crusted tofu
You can bake or fry these. Michael fried them as a birthday treat but we'll probably bake them in the future; we've previously had crunchy-crust baking success with 'fish' fingers. The original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of chilli powder but ours is really potent, so I nagged Michael into reducing it to a measly teaspoon.

vegetable oil for frying
500g firm tofu
1 cup rice milk
2 tablespoons cornflour
1 cup cornmeal (usually called 'polenta' here)
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon grated lime zest
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Stir together the milk and cornflour in a shallow bowl. In a separate shallow bowl, stir together the cornmeal, chilli powder, cumin, cayenne, lime zest and salt.

Slice the tofu lengthways into1.5cm-thick slabs, then slice the slabs diagonally into triangles.

To fry the tofu: Liberally coat the base of a frypan with oil and turn it up to medium heat. Once it's ready, dip a tofu slice into the milk until all sides are coated, then into the cornmeal for the same treatment. If you're a smartie, you can try having one 'wet' hand and one 'dry' hand to reduce mess. Place the crumbed tofu into the frypan, and repeat with the other tofu slices until the frypan's full. Fry the tofu for a couple of minutes on each side, then plonk it onto some absorbent paper and repeat with any remaining tofu.

To bake the tofu: Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C and lightly oil a baking dish. Dip the tofu slices into the milk, then the cornmeal as above, and place them in the baking dish - no overlapping and preferrably no pieces touching! Bake the tofu for about 15 minutes, turning once.

Finely shred 3 cups-worth of cabbage (ours was purple!) and grate a carrot. In a large bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup vegan mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons rice milk, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and a pinch each of pepper and mustard powder. Add the cabbage and carrot, and toss them to distribute the dressing through.

For the final assembly:
sandwich pickles
2 loaves of French baguette

Cut the baguettes into half-lengths, then slice them lengthways into sandwiches. Spread the bottom of each sandwich with the chipotle mayo, then stack it with tofu and coleslaw. Slice the pickles and balance them on top, and round it all off with the top piece of bread. Eat, eat, eat.

Menu for Hope V

It's back! 'Round Christmas time each year, food bloggers round the world (with Pim Tchamuanvivit at the helm) band together for a mega-raffle. The prizes up for grabs are awesome, to be sure, but that's not the best bit - all money raised is donated to the UN World Food Programme school lunch program in Lesotho (read more about it here). Last year we raised almost $100,000! Please consider buying tickets, for yourself or as a gift to the favourite foodie in your life.

Ed from Tomato is hosting the Asia-Pacific component of the raffle.

There are other prizes around the world that you're eligible for too.
Check out the full list of prizes here.

Donation Instructions:
1. Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from our Menu for Hope at Chez Pim or Tomato.
2. Go to the donation site at First Giving and make a donation.
3. Each US$10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. Please specify which prize you’d like in the ‘Personal Message’ section in the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code.
For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for AP01 and 3 tickets for AP02. Please write 2xAP01, 3xAP02
4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.
5. Please allow us to see your email address so that we could contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.

PSSST! There are some mighty fine vegetarian and vegan-friendly prizes out there this year. And the more tickets you buy, the more likely you are to win one of them. Good luck!

December 11, 2008: My edible birthday

On turning 28, my friend, colleague and fellow maths-nerd Alana reminded me that my new age is a perfect number. As if that's not enough to be pleased about, take a look at the food-themed gifts I've been treated to, to celebrate the occasion.

This cute card arrived in the mail from my brother, Liam.

Michael's mum, Robyn, posted me this brand new recipe calendar to replace the 2008 World In Your Kitchen Calendar that she bought us for Christmas last year. This time she designed and printed her own calendar full of vegetarian recipes! I'm impressed and mighty chuffed that she went to that effort - you can be sure that this blog will document us testing each recipe throughout the year.

Yes, it's Veganomicon! The ultimate reference for vegan cooking, source of the fabulous chickpea cutlet. Michael picked it out after a little internet research, and offered to cook me my choice of dinner from it on Friday night. I can't wait to get my teeth into more of these cruelty-free recipes in the coming weeks and months.

But he didn't stop there. Michael also tucked away some sweet little earrings and badges amongst a bag full of newspaper. The newspaper concealed this vintage drink set! I'll swizzle up Pimm's punch all summer, if only the weather warms up.

My December birthday melds most agreeably into Christmas. I spent the afternoon lazing around a barbecue and playing bocce with my lab-mates while in Dr Who-themed costume - that's what passes for an office Christmas party 'round these parts. And I think there's at least one more fabulous food-themed gift on its way to me. During the planning and parties of these few weeks, I'm looking forward to my turn to do the giving.